Top Canberra lawyer Ben Aulich is accused of questioning what an undercover police officer would do with “a wardrobe full of f-ing cash” during alleged discussions about how to go about laundering $1.2 million a year through a supermarket.
The newly revealed allegations against the 49-year-old, as well as accountant Michael Anthony Papandrea, were aired in the ACT Magistrates Court on Friday (26 August), when he fought a move by the prosecution to send both defendants to the Territory’s higher court.
The prosecution alleged they were involved in a conspiracy to launder the proceeds of selling cigarettes illegally imported into the country by an undercover police officer.
The alleged plan was to buy a supermarket and launder the illegal money through it.
The amount expected to be made from this alleged enterprise was about $100,000 a month, or $1.2 million a year.
Prosecutor Mark Tedeschi QC alleged that during discussions with the officer on how to go about laundering the money, Mr Aulich said, “You’ve got a wardrobe full of f-ing cash; what are you going to do with it?”
“It would be hard to imagine a more serious case of conspiracy to launder money than an officer of the court, with the responsibilities and trust that that position entails, engaging and assisting a client to set up a business for the specific purpose of laundering money,” Mr Tedeschi alleged.
But barrister Steven Whybrow, appearing for Mr Aulich, said there was no suggestion his client was going to receive any funds or have any involvement other than assisting with buying the supermarket.
Mr Aulich and Mr Papandrea have both been charged with conspiracy, while the former has also been charged with recruiting people to engage in criminal activity in the alternative and has pleaded not guilty.
Mr Tedeschi argued the Magistrates Court did not have the jurisdiction to deal with the matter due to the amount of money that was allegedly planned to be laundered.
He also said the maximum penalty the court could impose if the pair were convicted would be inadequate.
Mr Whybrow said the allegations had started with a conspiracy involving four people, but now it was three.
“We have a very rubbery prosecution case that has already changed,” he said.
“We are now talking about a completely different conspiracy.”
Mr Whybrow argued that as there was no actual money involved – it was “hypothetical” – it did not exceed the $30,000 jurisdictional limit, so the matter should remain in the lower court.
However, Magistrate Michael Crompton said while the money was not alleged to have been laundered by the time the defendants were charged, the charges did relate to money and due to the amounts alleged to be involved, he believed the Magistrates Court could not hear the case and it must eventually go to the Supreme Court.
He also said that the degree of seriousness in the prosecution’s case was extremely high.
The matter will proceed to a contested committal hearing later this year. The defendants remain on bail.